Colladon was an important physicist working in Switzerland and France. His experiments on the compression of air and liquids, the speed of sound in acoustic signals, and atmospheric electricity brought him academic success and made him a sought-after consulting engineer for gas factories and tunnel construction.
After completing his degree in law in 1824, Colladon moved to Paris, where he studied mathematics and physics and worked in the laboratory of André-Marie Ampère and Joseph Fourier. With his friend and colleague Charles-François Sturm (1803–1855), he conducted an experiment on Lake Geneva to measure the speed of sound under water. Proving the accuracy of their evaluation of the compressibility of liquids, this study won the Grand Prix of the Académie des Sciences in Paris. On the basis of that early research, Colladon developed the idea of measuring the depth of the sea with echo sounding and of using acoustic signals for communication between ships.
In 1829, Colladon co-founded the École Centrale in Paris, where he taught mechanics, physics, and steam engines for ten years. In 1839, he was appointed professor of mechanics at the Académie de Genève, where he taught for the next twenty years. After his retirement, he continued working as a consulting engineer.
Colladon’s inventions for the Navy, his experiments on the loss of energy in gas transmissions and light reflections in water jets, and his works on atmospheric electricity were highly influential. In 1884, he was awarded the Prix Fourneyron of the Académie des Sciences for his invention of an air compression system.
- Colladon, Jean-Daniel, and Charles-François Sturm. “Mémoire sur la Compression des Liquides.” Annales de chimie et de physique 36 (1827): 113–158, 225–257.
- Colladon, Jean-Daniel. Contributions à l’étude de la grêle et des trombes aspirantes. Geneva: Georg, 1879.
- Colladon, Jean-Daniel. Souvenirs et mémoires. Autobiographie. Geneva: Imprimerie Aubert-Schuchardt, 1893.
- Fischer, Stéphane. Jean-Daniel Colladon, savant et industriel genevois. Geneva: Musée d’histoire des sciences, 2010.
- Sigrist, René. “Colladon, Jean-Daniel.” In: Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (HLS), 18/12/2003. [online version]
- “Jean-Daniel Colladon – ein Schweizer Physiker, Ingenieur und genialer Erfinder” Presentation by Peter Költzsch at the fall conference of the swiss society for acoustics, October 29–30, 2013, Muttenz.